Mike Macdonald wants Michigan’s new defense to be “living nightmare” for opponents
ANN ARBOR, Michigan – In the relentless process of trying to figure out what Michigan’s new-look defense might look like this fall, freshman coordinator Mike Macdonald has provided the best insight yet.
Speaking to reporters at Schembechler Hall on Thursday, a day before the Wolverines were ready to open the preseason camp, the unofficial start of the 2021 season, Macdonald said it was a “misconception” of characterize the Baltimore Ravens’ heavy defensive disguise plan – one he says he’s trying to fit in here in Michigan – complicated. At least, from the perspective of whoever plays it.
“You think, ‘Dude, these guys are flying all over the place,’ and that’s kind of what we’re trying to create here,” Macdonald said. “But I think the secret sauce is that it’s not that hard. It’s just different concepts layered together.
Macdonald said the goal is really to create confusion on the other side of the ball, forcing attacks to adapt to the way he’s playing. The 34-year-old first-time coordinator will attempt to make it in Michigan with a mix of looks, from a traditional four-man front to a 3-4 look with the Aidan Hutchinson and Taylor Upshaw ends falling back into a hybrid outside linebacker role. .
But how much these looks appear remains an unknown. To help illustrate his vision, Macdonald said his plan is a mix of his previous stops – in Georgia under Todd Grantham, whose stop-the-run-first approach has been a mixed bag in Florida; and Baltimore, where the Ravens relied heavily on versatile linebackers to build pressure, but also protect in the running game – and the principles of Michigan’s past.
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“We’re trying to create complexity in an offense,” Macdonald said. “Really trying to make an offense a living nightmare. Because I’ve been there. They have to drop all the blitzes and stuff. It’s not a fun place.
Still, Macdonald acknowledges that trying to train a collegiate defense is very different from doing it in the NFL, where there isn’t much of a difference from attack to attack. At the college level, you might be faced with the triple option one day and face a “22-person” squad (two fullbacks, two tight ends) the next.
“These are calls, totally different concepts, so it’s going to adjust on a weekly basis,” Macdonald said. “Each of the opponents is going to bring something different to the table, so we’re going to have to (adjust). I’m not going to call the same thing against Western Michigan as I am against Washington. These are just two totally different offenses.
The good news for Macdonald and the rest of Michigan’s coaching staff is the caliber of talent returning from all three phases of the unit. Hutchinson, considered one of the Big Ten’s best endings, is healthy again and looking for a breakout year. Linebacker Josh Ross is back for one more season and keen to play a more aggressive role, while Michael Barrett has added weight in a prescribed ‘viper’ move – the hybrid-security linebacker position under the former coordinator. Don Brown – inside linebacker.
And the Wolverines have two talented safe playmakers Daxton Hill and Brad Hawkins who could be used more freely this fall.
If Michigan can stay healthy, both up front and linebacker, will have a chance to stop the race. Defensive tackle Chris Hinton is consistent and experienced enough to hold up, as is fifth-year senior Donovan Jeter. Meanwhile, Mazi Smith has shown significant growth.
But depth in the linebacker remains a concern, as does development in the cornerback, a group of positions that really hurt Michigan in 2020. The two starters from a year ago are back, one risking losing his starting role in the camp, and has a new coaching position with Steve Clinkscale. Much of what players learned in the spring was new, with Ross and Hutchinson describing a culture shift from within that was player-led but certainly influenced by a new coaching staff.
“I think this is my 15th year of coaching, but it’s the most excited I’ve been for training camp,” said Macdonald. “I’m ready to roll. It’s prom time. The time to talk is over.
“It’s time for us to do it – and I think our guys are ready. “
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